In San Antonio, four baboons recently managed to break free from the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in an amazing feat of teamwork and problem-solving skills. The animals left their enclosure on April 14, 2018, as three of them breached the fencing around the facility. The escape was no small accomplishment for the baboons, who are housed in an open-air enclosure surrounded by perimeter walls that fold inwards to prevent the animals from jumping out. Unfortunately, before they could go much further, the baboons were captured by the Southwest National Primate Research Center’s animal capture team.
The animal care staff has determined that, in order to overtake the fence, the baboons rolled a 55-gallon barrel, part of the enclosure’s enrichment equipment, to an upright position.
According to the institute’s press release, the barrels have since been removed from the enclosure for further assessment and modification, so that the animals do not leave the enclosure again.
The baboons were captured within 20-30 minutes of escaping their enclosure. Thankfully, they were not infected since they were not part of “an active study,” nor used in infectious disease research. Nevertheless, as per protocol, the capture team wore protective equipment for the safety of the animals themselves, as they are susceptible to human illnesses.
The fourth baboon who escaped the enclosure appeared to have returned to it right away. The capture team continued monitoring the perimeter area, while animal care staff completed a full head count of the animals in the enclosure and determined that the fourth baboon had indeed gone back inside.
The three escapees were attended to by the research center’s veterinary staff and were reported to be doing well.
The baboons’ escape is a great testament to their intelligence and impressive ability to solve problems and organize something as tricky as breaching the fence designed especially to keep them from running away. The animals managed to outsmart their human captors – unfortunately, this extraordinary escape ended up in the baboons being returned to the place they wanted so much to flee.
This story is just further proof that we have no business keeping highly intelligent animals – or any animal – captive for research purposes. Had the baboons have been part of an active trial, they could have spread a potentially harmful disease across the area where they escaped. Even without being infected, baboons are wild animals and could have lashed out against passersby along their way or been harmed themselves.
While we owe so much to animals used in research, we now have humane alternatives to animal testing at our disposal. The future of research is not in tests on animals but in innovative methods of testing that are becoming better and better as technology develops and improves. Animals are imperfect stand-ins for a human body – and the flawed and cruel practices of animal testing should be progressively replaced by humane and accurate alternatives.